Out of the Fire

2 Peter 3:8-15a (NRSV)

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.


By Chuck Griffin

The Apostle Peter, the head of the church after the resurrected Jesus’ ascension, paints a cataclysmic picture of Christ’s return. It is an image of the universe melting away in an unimaginable heat.

The stars and the planets spun out of them “pass away with a loud noise,” a kind of theological Big Bang announcing the end of creation rather than the beginning. Not all is destroyed, however. The earth remains, stripped bare, with it and all its people exposed before God, their inner holiness and evil undeniably on display.

Peter gives us perhaps the starkest scene of judgment in the Bible, one that grows in audacity as our scientific understanding of the size and design of the universe expands. When I read his words, I see an ash-covered earth hanging in the darkness, with all the people who have ever lived on it looking up, put in a position where we recognize our complete dependence on our creator. We see only with whatever light God chooses to provide from his throne. We become actors on a barren stage, no costumes, no props. At this point, nothing matters but our relationship with God.

Peter’s words could be just fantastic symbolism, of course. But as I’ve pointed out in the past, symbols are a simple way of understanding a more complex reality. If we believe the Bible is communicating God’s truth, then we have to acknowledge the experience of judgment will be at least as overwhelming as what we see here, and likely more so. We will come face-to-face with our holy maker, stripped bare of our pretenses and self-delusions.

Peter’s letter is a call to ready ourselves, to undergo our own personal purifying fire now. It should help us to know this: What comes out of the fire is far greater than what went into the fire.

Peter would have been familiar with Malachi’s Old Testament prophecies of a day when one would come to act as a “refining fire” and “fuller’s soap,” purifying what has been tainted by sin. The prophecy is not so much about the refining process as it is about what comes out, gold and silver in their purest forms.

After his images of fiery destruction, Peter also alludes to the “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” We submit ourselves to purification by God’s Holy Spirit not out of fear, but in joy, knowing God’s purifying work on the universe through Christ will establish a greater way of living. We ready ourselves for a place in the new creation.

So, how do we submit?

Many of you have made that first step, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. Those of you who have not—well, Peter makes clear God is patient. He has provided a path to holiness through belief in Jesus Christ, and has stayed the end for nearly 2,000 years, “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” When the time of patience ends, however, it will end quickly, either in Christ’s return or your departure from this life.

Acceptance of Christ as Savior certainly is enough to save us. Even a sincere deathbed confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is enough. Those of us blessed to come to Christ earlier in our lives are called to something more, though. We’re given a chance to undergo the refining fire in this life, anticipating the life to come.

The early Methodists had a simple set of rules to live by as they pursued holiness. They are just as instructive for us today.

First, do no harm. What are we doing that damages others? How do we stop doing those things? These usually are actions large and small that are easy to identify, although often hard to stop. Ask any recovering addict.

Second, do good. Again, the principle is very simple. Do we do good in every way we can, whenever we have the opportunity? There’s a lot of evil in the world, and it takes a lot of goodness to push back against it. We cannot earn our salvation, but once we find ourselves part of Christ’s contingent, it’s nice to help the kingdom grow. In fact, that’s a good way to measure if an act is good—is it a victory for God’s kingdom over the ruler of this world, Satan?

Third, stay in love with God. I’m borrowing Rueben Job’s paraphrase of John Wesley’s more elaborate statement, “By attending upon all the ordinances of God.” By this, Wesley meant taking those actions we know will keep us in a relationship with God: public worship, study of God’s word, receiving communion, prayer, and abstaining from activities that can be a distraction from God.

When we follow these rules, we open ourselves to the refining work of the Holy Spirit. And we do not miss the dross that is burned away.

Lord, give us the strength to submit to your refinements now, trusting there is nothing to fear as the Spirit goes to work. Amen.

Out of the Fire

2 Peter 3:8-13 (NRSV)

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.


The Apostle Peter paints a cataclysmic picture of Christ’s return. It is an image of the universe melting away in an unimaginable heat. The earth remains, stripped bare, its people exposed before God, their inner holiness and evil undeniably on display.

Peter’s words could be just mind-boggling symbolism, of course. But as I’ve pointed out in the past, symbols are a simple way of understanding a more complex reality.

If we believe the Bible is communicating God’s truth, then we have to acknowledge the experience of judgment will be at least as overwhelming as what we see here, and likely more so. We will come face-to-face with our holy creator while stripped bare of our pretenses and self-delusions.

Peter’s letter is a call to ready ourselves, to plunge into our own personal purifying fire. It should help us to know this: What comes out of the fire is far greater than what went into the fire.

Peter would have been familiar with Malachi’s Old Testament prophecies of a day when God’s appointed one would come to act as a “refining fire” and “fuller’s soap,” purifying what has been tainted by sin. The prophecy is not so much about the refining process as it is about what comes out, gold and silver in their purest forms.

After his images of fiery destruction, Peter also alludes to the “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” We submit ourselves to purification by God’s Holy Spirit not out of fear, but in joy, knowing God’s purifying work through Christ will establish a greater way of living. We ready ourselves for a place in the new creation.

So, how do we submit?

Many of you have made that first step, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. Those of you who have not—well, Peter makes clear that God is patient until the time of patience ends.

Our faith leads us to a new level of engagement with God. The early Methodists had a simple set of rules to live by as they pursued holiness. They are just as instructive for us today.

First, do no harm. What are we doing that damages others? How do we stop doing those things?

Second, do good. Again, the principle is very simple. Do we do good in every way we can, whenever we have the opportunity?

Third, stay in love with God. I’m borrowing Rueben Job’s paraphrase of John Wesley’s more elaborate statement, “By attending upon all the ordinances of God.” By this, Wesley meant participating in public worship, studying God’s word, receiving communion, praying, and abstaining from activities that can distract us from God.

When we follow these rules, we open ourselves to the refining work of the Holy Spirit. And we do not regret the loss of any sin that is burned away.

Lord, make us ready. Amen.

From Glory to Horror to Hope

Matthew 2:13-18

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

So strange—at this point in the Christmas story, we’ve heard of angelic announcements and a virgin birth, events so miraculous they’re highlighted in the night sky, drawing wise men from distant lands. And then this horror happens.

As terrible as the slaughter of these innocent children is to contemplate, perhaps the account does help us process the horrors we have seen. It’s not unusual for people to ask, “How can God let such things happen?”

Well … evil remains in the world, doesn’t it? Satan and all beings who follow Satan’s lead see their impending destruction in Christ’s arrival. Their ongoing response is one of fury, an unleashing of the irrational anger at the core of their being.

Like Herod, any self-centered human can experience how frustration leads to anger, and anger can turn violent. There’s also a general brokenness to the world, the result of uncountable generations of sinful decision-making going back to the original break between humanity and God.

So even at the time of the birth of Christ, horrors persisted. And horrors will persist, for a time.

God has provided the solution, though. Somehow, the solution even will be mysteriously retroactive, wiping away every tear, to quote Revelation 21:4. We also can look to the concluding verses in Jeremiah 31:15-17, to which Matthew alluded after telling the tale of the Bethlehem children:

“There is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.”

The work of Christ does not yet relieve us of the horrors we have witnessed or experienced, but it will. That great truth, mysterious as it is, should give us hope in all circumstances.

Lord, as we confront the dark realities of our world, give us a deeper understanding of how very temporary you will prove them to be. Amen.

Keep Alert!

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Luke 21:34-38 (NLT)

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him.


When Jesus said, “Watch out,” he was ending a discourse on the coming of the Son of Man, what we sometimes call “the last days” or even “Judgment Day.”

During his prophecies about the future, Jesus talked about signs that would rattle the world, but he also indicated his return could be immediate. Apparently, it’s possible to be so swept up in earthly living that we could miss even dramatic signs and be caught flat-footed.

“Keep alert at all times.” Those words should shape how we live as Christians. In the midst of life, we need to carry within us an understanding that a full encounter with our creator could happen at any moment, and then adjust our lives accordingly.

The last two sentences in today’s Bible passage seem almost tacked on, or the beginning of a new story. They are important, though. Jesus, knowing he is headed for his moment of trial and testing, modeled single-mindedness.

By day, he went about the work of the Savior. In the evening, the Son communed with the Father, drawing on the strength he would need to continue.

It’s a good pattern for children of God to follow, one that keeps us ready.

Lord, when the moment comes, may we be found expectantly waiting and thrilled to see your face. Amen.

Strange Signs

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Luke 21:25-28 (NLT)

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”


This season of Advent is in part about anticipating Christ’s return, knowing God’s promises will be fulfilled. Evil and death will be cast away forever.

It is the lead-up to Christ’s return that can scare the jujubes out of us. When we’re told all people will be perplexed by sudden changes in the sea and sky, the word “cataclysmic” comes to mind.

We are left to decide how we are going to read Jesus’ statement. Is this symbolism, perhaps even hyperbole, an overstatement designed to indicate the serious nature of Christ’s words?

Was Jesus speaking of ongoing events, which certainly can be dramatic, or are the hurricanes, earthquakes and strange events in the sky (think conjunctions and Oumuamua) merely foreshadowings of more shocking events to come?

As Christians, we are to understand that this encounter with Christ, the beginning of the eternal experience of his full presence, will dwarf all other events in human history. The language used to describe this great day may be poetic, but the day will not disappoint us. Those who get to experience it from an earthly vantage will no doubt be astonished.

The very biblical concept of Christ’s return is critical to our understanding of the work Jesus did on the cross, a redemptive act still moving toward completion. The hard part is done; as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” and the rest is inevitable.

Those blessed to see that day will be rattled to the depths of their souls. If you are among them, just remember, it’s all for the best.

Maranatha, Lord.

Scoffers to the End

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Jude 17-23 (NLT)

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.


Like many pastors, I get this question now and then: “So, do you think we are near the end of time?”

In response, I usually say, “I can guarantee one thing. We are one day closer today than we were yesterday.” Most people don’t seem to find that very satisfying, though.

The question usually arises because of strife in the world: wars and rumors of wars, or in 2020, a pandemic combined with particularly tense U.S. politics and civil unrest. I try to keep all of that turmoil in perspective, though.

Look at it this way. Would you trade living right now for a life in 14th-century Europe during the Black Plague? Would you instead choose the World War I era (capped off by the Spanish flu pandemic) or World War II?

No doubt, Christians have thought to themselves many times, “This is it—this must be the end!”

Jude obviously wrote his letter to an audience struggling with such thoughts. The date of writing is hard to nail down precisely, but the letter would have been delivered just before or not long after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which was preceded by insurrection and followed by ethnic dispersion and brutal horrors.

What Jude had to say is interesting, however, not because it is rooted in a particular time, but because it is good advice for all times. In his day, and in the centuries to follow, the church, local or global, has had a basic problem. There always are “scoffers” hanging around the edges or even lurking within as false teachers.

They live for themselves, to satisfy their own desires, so very naturally they bring division to any group of Christians they find.

As Jude said, the cure is relatively straightforward. Christians must worship and live so they remain true as a group to their Savior, Jesus Christ. They must disciple themselves so their churches are guided by the Holy Spirit in all that they do.

We are particularly blessed in our era because we have God’s word so freely available to us in the Bible. Discipleship has a lot of competition in our busy, media-saturated world, but at the same time, discipleship through prayer and the study of God’s word has never been easier.

And while Jude counsels vigilance against those who would tear the church apart, he emphasizes mercy and love for people needing to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That would include those scoffers, who simply are aggressive sinners who got through the door.

Keep sin and the encouragement to sin out of the church, but keep Christ’s mercy continually available to all in need. That’s a strategy to sustain us until the end of time, regardless of when that may be.

Lord, give us discernment to see both obvious and subtle strains of sin, and as we find these in our midst, may we trust in your Holy Spirit to gently guide us toward holiness. Amen.

Survival Plans

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 24:1-2: Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

There are a couple of ways to respond to serious threats in the world. There’s always the stereotypical “lone wolf” approach: Stock up on food and ammo (and apparently, toilet paper) and hunker down for a fight. But today, I want us to consider how a healthy church community serves as a key part of any survival plan.

With Covid-19 affecting everyday life so drastically, planning for worst-case scenarios doesn’t seem so kooky right now. We don’t like to think about disasters that very well may never happen in our lifetimes, particularly when we live in a relatively secure environment with easy access to water, food and heat. Serious events do happen, though.

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve volunteered or even been employed to work in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and you’ve seen how quickly modern urban areas like New Orleans and San Francisco can spend days, weeks or even months without basic necessities.

Human-caused disasters can wreak even more long-term havoc. For example, in 1984, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, was modern and peaceful enough to host the Winter Olympic Games. By 1992, however, the Bosnian War was underway, and the city came under siege for four years. Its residents went from being model citizens of eastern Europe to constant targets of sniper fire as they ran about trying to buy a little bread.

And of course, we will never forget Sept. 11, 2001.

I’m not trying to make us feel more scared. It’s just a reality that the brokenness of the world can intrude anywhere, and people can be left struggling in the wake of such events. We’re talking about a truth that has been constant throughout human history.

Jesus was very open about what a hard place the world can be, and near the end of the Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 24, he is quoted as speaking in apocalyptic tones.

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars,” Jesus said. “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:6-8)

Hearing Jesus’ words as a child must have affected me. Since I was a boy, I have enjoyed reading books and magazines on survival skills. I suppose there’s something comforting in at least thinking you might know how to start a fire and make water clean enough to drink under difficult circumstances.

I ran across an interesting magazine, “Living Ready,” a few years ago. Within was one of the best survival articles I’ve ever read, mostly because the author went in a different direction than what you usually find in such a magazine.

In the article, Dr. Kyle Ver Steeg contrasted the stereotype of the lone survivalist in the “Army Guy” costume vs. the reality of how people actually survive difficult situations. He drew heavily on his experience working in Haiti shortly after the massive earthquake that struck there in 2010.

To prepare for a long-term survival situation, “I am of the opinion that the single most important thing you can do is to build a network of trustworthy, capable and likeable people,” Ver Steeg writes. “I would add that you should also work on becoming a part of your community and to develop skills that will be useful to your particular group.”

Later, he makes this particularly pertinent point: “If you are a churchgoing person you already have such a network in place. Think about it for a second. Churches already have leaders and a community of like-minded people with varied skills. They are used to working together to accomplish goals. Many churches already do mission work in desolate areas of the world. These people have knowledge and experience that some of the most survival-minded people do not.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? In a crisis, relying on the relationships and shared skills we’ve been developing for years in church should be a natural response. Most churches contain all sorts of people useful in an emergency: medical professionals, soldiers, scientists, engineers, food-handling experts, logistical experts—that’s just a quick start to a very long list. And in the midst of all that, we have Scripture as our guide and the Holy Spirit to sustain us.

As terrible as Covid-19 is, perhaps there’s an opportunity here. By the time we get through all of this, we may have a better understanding of just how valuable our community of Christians is, and perhaps we will be better equipped to work in this sin-broken world.

Lord, may we sense how we are part of something bigger than ourselves when we gather as a church. Amen.

Being Immediate

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 15:1-4 (NLT)

Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your works,
    O Lord God, the Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and glorify your name?
    For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
    for your righteous deeds have been revealed.”

When exploring ideas about the end of time, thoughtful Christians have to piece together a lot of Scripture from various books of the Bible.

As we see in today’s text and the verses further into Revelation, we are promised there will be an end to the influence of evil, a completion of Christ’s work on the cross. Sin and death have already been defanged by Jesus’ sacrifice, but they still have to be put down completely, rabid dogs of Satan that they are.

Much of the Book of Revelation is highly symbolic, the images depicting events in the past, present and future. Complicating interpretation further, the reader’s perspective in Revelation keeps changing between heaven and earth.

As we study and process what is written there, one conclusion seems certain to me. We should sense a responsibility to let people know that heaven and earth will be remade one day, for the better, after terrible birth pangs. God is very much at work in the world.

Simultaneously, we should understand that we cannot know with any real certainty the what, where and who of Revelation, the apocalyptic sections of the Book of Daniel, or other biblical references to the last days, and we certainly cannot know the when.

“No one knows when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself,” Jesus said. “Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36.)

To process and live out what we are taught about the end times, I find it useful to cling to “immediacy,” the idea that God’s redemptive work in this world could end and Christ could return at any moment.

In the same section of Matthew, Jesus’ words continue:

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 24:37-39

I think it’s dangerous when people claim certain events have to happen before Christ returns in full—even as believers, we can be lulled into apathy by such thoughts. The Apostle Peter had this in mind when he wrote, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8.)

A proper understanding of our own mortality should also give us a sense of immediacy about conforming to the will of God. None of us truly knows whether a particular day might be our last. We tend to imagine observing the end of days with an earthly view, when there’s a significant chance we will have a very different perspective.

So, what to do? Well, today’s text has one image that should give us inspiration and joy. This side of heaven or the other, let’s be sure that first, we are praising God, who through Jesus Christ has saved us from what should have been the eternal grip of sin and death.

Let’s praise God here on earth with our voices and whatever musical instruments we may have on hand, just as we will praise him one day in a new heaven and earth. Perhaps we will even lift these praises with harps in hands, standing on something like a brilliant sea of fire-imbued glass.

Lord, let today be about you, and then let each day that follows be the same. Amen.


Website image courtesy FantasyStock at fantasystock@deviantart.com.